Unpopular Opinions: Are Resolutions Problematic Or Are We Just Scared of Failing?


In her new intergenerational column for The Latch, Crystal Andrews will explore the differences in thinking, behaviours and beliefs between Gen Z their Millennial ‘elders’. Crystal is the founder of news platform Zee Feed and author of How to Win Every Argument: A No-Filter Guide to Being Right About Everything.

It’s the most wonderful, emotionally-charged, and self-reflective time of the year. And soon the New Year’s resolutions stats will begin popping up everywhere, reminding us that 80% of resolutions fail by February.

There has been a growing trend to opt-out of making a resolution, and the instability of 2020 will make it an even more popular choice. But is shying away from setting annual goals really in our best interest?

Critics say that the high failure rates, arbitrary timing and the ambitious nature of New Year’s resolutions make them problematic. But one young woman argued that this is just fear of failure dressed up in a seasonal costume – something we should actively confront.

“The popular ‘hate’ for New Year’s resolutions is immature and ironically proof that we all need more goal-setting practice. It sends a message that it’s better to not try at all than try and possibly fail.

“The belief that resolutions ‘set us up to fail’ undermines how much we learn, grow and gain from the process of trying. What happened to resilience? Problem-solving? The fact that people are rejecting the opportunity for personal growth seems immature.”

Is it time to come full circle on New Year’s resolutions and commit to making them again – February failures and all?

“When we fail there is something to learn”

Ironically, it proved to be quite a popular opinion among young Millennials and Gen Zs. They see New Year’s resolutions as both a challenge and an opportunity to apply the same focus to their personal lives as they do their work.

If anything, they expect failure – embracing it as part of the process of reaching any goal. According to one response, “setting smart goals is Psychology 101. When we fail it means there is something to learn”. 

It’s a re-brand of how we understand ‘resolutions’: rather than the rigid, one-shot goals they have traditionally been perceived as. The next gen think of “NY resos” as progressive bars against which they can measure their own personal growth. It slots neatly into their quest for constant betterment (not just seeking success, but actually becoming a better person).

“People can say, ‘I made this goal and achieved 80% of it through doing X,Y,Z’. Which is great, and they can still work on that remaining 20% in a new goal ‘cause growth doesn’t stop when you don’t reach it. Growth can be constant.”

Rejecting traditional, patriarchal norms

However, using resolutions to reinforce the 20th Century’s most damaging norms is something Gen Zs firmly reject.

“A lot of New Year’s resolutions are rooted in ideals that are flawed, like weight loss and toxic productivity.”

The fact that most people tend to “focus on the unhealthy, patriarchal goals” – like weight loss – is why some young people still feel that New Year’s resolutions are more problematic than ‘normal’ goals. 

“I’m not a fan of setting numerical goals like ‘I will lose 10kg this year’, which is what a lot of companies do when co-opting the New Year’s resolution. It’s really tied up with diet culture, body shaming, and focuses on surface-level things.”

But their disdain is less about the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions, and more to do with how easily the neatly packaged concept of a resolution can be sold. Commoditisation is the root of this evil.

Normalise adaptation and change

Our fear of failure – and belief that failure is a ‘final’ state that cannot be recovered from – is a big reason why resolutions get abandoned in February. It feels so uncomfortable that we stop altogether. 

But that’s not a fault of the resolution – it’s on us. Staying flexible throughout the year allows us to change our approach based on how we feel in the moment and continue to progress. 

“As soon as people hit a roadblock they quit completely, but checking in after a month and reassessing where you’re at and what is or isn’t working is so important. I work in a gym and see this so often, for people wanting to train five times a week in the beginning of the year. Then a small inconvenience, and they fall off completely when they just need to re-establish their goals for their life at that time.” 

The advice is obvious, but so simple: It’s ok to change your pace, to move the goalposts. Re-strategising when you ‘fail’ is what matters.

It’s the reason why resolutions are becoming more broad in 2020 with a clear trend towards “intention-setting” over specific goals. Having a ‘theme of the year’ focuses your efforts on one area while allowing for flexibility and experimentation. 

If every New Year’s resolution was underpinned by this outlook, we’d be able to avoid a lot of the shame, guilt and fear that makes us want to opt out. Progress over perfection.

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